Peers and clients say:
"Gervase and his team produce excellent results within tight deadlines"
"He is a leading figure in the asset recovery space, without question"
Gervase is the head of international advisory, risk and quality at BDO LLP. He has extensive experience of international arbitrations, having worked on cases in London, Geneva, Zurich and Paris, and acted as expert witness in hundreds of legal actions. His main area of expertise is in the field of natural resources, particularly oil and gas claims. Prior to joining BDO, he worked as a petroleum geologist in the North Sea, Australia and West Africa.
What types of mandate do you enjoy working on the most in your practice?
I enjoy working in the natural resources sector, particularly in hydrocarbons (I have a geology degree and worked as a geologist after university).
I also enjoy big complicated cases where the shape and the issues are not clear at the outset. What I Iike here is not knowing at the start how things are going to unfold.
What did you find most challenging about becoming an asset recovery and investigations expert?
First, when I started there was little in the way of formal training or text books or even that much experience in my firm. You had to learn on the job, by keeping up to date with relevant legal cases, mixing with lawyers and insolvency practitioners and attending conferences. I think the learning is more readily available these days.
Second, working in countries with very different cultures, legal systems, etc, can be challenging.
Finally, keeping up to date with the latest forensic technology, how it works and what it can do will always be a challenge to a non-specialist.
How has the market changed since you first started practising?
My first investigations were in the 1980s when forensic accounting wasn’t even an offering. Investigations were usually carried out by auditors – my first investigation was the Caparo case, which was an audit client of my firm and the client brought us in because of a concern over the numbers at a company they had recently acquired. Auditors would not do this work now because of skills issues and the non-audit services rules. Instead, we have highly skilled forensic accountants in the large firms and a number of boutiques offering services. So, I would say the work has become highly professionalised.
Clients and the legal advisers are now far more ready to bring in forensic accountants for investigations at an early stage.
There is also now a very close link between a firm’s insolvency services and forensic accounting particularly in contentious insolvency. In the past, IPs would have undertaken the investigation aspects of an appointment.
(By the way, in the Caparo case, despite being a junior auditor, we did find the fraud).
What recent trends have you noticed in investigations, and how have they impacted your work?
This is not a trend, it just happened – investigations including interviews are now mainly remote. We have not had to travel much – if at all – which is good, but you do miss face-to-face interaction. However, I am sure the trend will be for more remote investigations once we get over the coronavirus pandemic.
What parallels can you draw between the financial crisis of 2008 and the financial crisis caused by covid-19?
I am not sure you can draw that many. In the coronavirus pandemic we all know the immediate disruption will end, we just don’t know when. In the GFC it was never clear when it ended. I can’t say there was a great deal of innovation and changes in business practice during the 2008 crisis, but there seems to have been loads over the last 15 months. There is a strong view that remote hearings are a good thing – when would we have had such an experiment absent lockdown. In the accounting and legal worlds we have all been surprised by how well business has fared since lockdown started. In many recessions large numbers of businesses go to the wall. The parallel I can see is that insolvency during the GFC was nothing like the early nineties recession owing in part to the protection offered by low interest rates and quantitative easing. We now have low insolvencies due to government support. However, low interest rates and QE are still with us – but government support will end and with that will come a lot of insolvency work. And insolvencies are a prolific parent of disputes.
In your opinion, what long-lasting changes will covid-19 bring to forensic accounting?
The most important one will be remote investigations. In the wider investigations world finance directors of firms will be less keen on approving overseas conferences after a year plus of no spend!
What do you enjoy most about your role on the leadership team at BDO?
Feeling I am making a difference in my role of protecting the firm, in particular from claims. I enjoy working with the BDO legal team and our external lawyers.
In which direction would you like to steer your practice in the next five years?
BDO has seen significant growth recently. In the audit practice we are increasingly a choice for large quoted companies. While we have always undertaken some work for large global companies, I think my practice area – along with others in the firm – can increasingly benefit from the increasing market awareness of the BDO name.